As an under-graduate studying Sociology (ahem...a while ago) I spent many a night reading Darwin and becoming fluent in his theory of evolution via natural selection. So it was with great interest that I recently read a fascinating article called “Darwin’s Forgotten World: Australia’s Blue Mountains Influenced the Great Thinker’s Understanding of Evolution as Profoundly as the Galapagos.” (Perrottet, Tony. Smithsonian Magazine, January 2015: 50-61.)
Charles Darwin is best known for his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. Twenty years earlier, in 1839, he had published The Voyage of the Beagle (also known as “Darwin’s Journal of Researches”) drawn from his experiences onboard the 1831-1836 survey exploration journey of the HMS Beagle. In cruise vernacular this was a 1,741-day (non-luxury) voyage, round-trip from Plymouth, England: December, 27 1831 – October 2, 1836.
During that voyage, on January 12, 1836 to be exact, the HMS Beagle docked at the 48-year-old British outpost of Sydney, Australia. Darwin hired a guide and set out on horseback for “the nearby Blue Mountains, where mysterious species (many already renowned among the British scientific community) thrived in a geologically unique setting.” (Smithsonian Magazine, p.54) On the 7th day of Darwin’s visit to Australia he reached a remote sheep ranch in the Blue Mountains called Wallerawang run by an “amiable Scot named Andrew Browne” (Ibid, p58). It was here, according to his research journal, that Darwin watched the odd animals known as ‘platypus’ playing in a stream and made notes that they behaved “exactly like the water rats he knew back home in England” (Ibid.) According to biographers, this was a key moment in his formation of the theory of evolution…“that different species had in fact evolved from the same origin over millions of years, changing their characteristics to suit their environments.” (Ibid.)
Today the Blue Mountains are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area that spans 1.03 million hectares (2.5 million acres). Visitors to the park can follow Darwin’s route from the ferry terminal at Circular Quay in Sydney to Wallerawang and beyond, with stops and paths along the way such as the 2-mile Charles Darwin Walk that follows a creek to a waterfall and vast views.
There is also a private non-profit foundation called the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute whose mission is to “engage research and communities in caring for the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.” One example of this was a three day field trip that taught college students ‘large-scale ecosystem management’. They welcome volunteers and donors.
I don’t know about you but a visit to Australia and specifically the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area has suddenly moved far up my bucket list of must-see places!
Azamara® has seven upcoming voyages calling on Sydney, Australia.
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA) is the catchment and lungs of the Sydney basin, providing a wide range of essential ecosystem services. It is internationally recognized for its biodiversity and cultural significance and is particularly noted for its wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats. Eight national parks (Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai, Yengo, Gardens of Stone, Thirlmere Lakes and Jenolan Caves Karst Reserve) were integrated into the GBMWHA, which was added to the World Heritage List in 2000 to form the largest integrated system of protected areas in New South Wales.
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